Tools of the Trade 24

Tools of the Trade Chapter Twenty Four

Captain Kalid on the Sword of the Prophet was astounded that the Cardoman ship Eagle continued to follow him to the planet. No, not just follow but continue to close the distance. What could the Captain be thinking could be accomplished save the ships destruction by such a reckless course of action? Kalid would soon know. If the ship did not break off the pursuit in the next several hours he would be forced to deal with her. He could admire the courage but it was a poor decision militarily. For such one must pay.

Rashid was in direct contact with General al-Ghazzali and Abdul Khalaf. He finished up planning the orbital maneuvers necessary to use his KE weapons on the Cardoman military forces. He was sure they could be eliminated in at most two passes. One pass would suffice if avoiding damage to the mines was taken off the table. The safety of his own ship from target three would be best served by a quick in and out.

“We have no choice but to fight,” Captain Madry said to her officers and bridge crew. The situation on Altoona was not being keep a secret from anyone, as soon as information came in it became general knowledge. “We cannot avoid this responsibility and see our people destroyed. If the situation were different I would choose not to fight — the odds being as they are… If it were just a matter of Altoona being drawn into the Caliphate’s sphere of influence, we would not fight. With our people at risk— honor forbids we do anything else.

“I want everyone thinking long range strategy. Delay the Calp ship until the Aladdin can come up and help. Just close enough and enough force to make the Calps pause to deal with us. We will that we do what we must.”

Later on a replay of the bridge recordings would show how plans were changed.

On the Aladdin Captain Voinovich and Admiral Raymond had already made one decision concerning their own course of action that would narrow Captain Kalid’s options considerably.

“So if we don’t turnover midway for a zero velocity arrival to orbit but continue to accelerate we can reach Altoona an hour after Captain Madry gets within shooting range,” Voinovich said. “We can’t afford to do any deceleration at all. It will be a one time firing pass and then we will sweep right on by all too quickly. But it’s the only choice that gives us a chance to help the Eagle.”

“True but if the Captain of the sword is decisive and goes right for the Eagle she will have to be very fortunate to survive long enough for us to help. And when we get there we have no chance to slow down and get back into range before the Sword has done the deed on planet and escapes into hyper,” Raymond replied showing his concern. “Any other ideas?”

“Sir,” Lt Tsarinstyn said, “I know a hyperships Captain wouldn’t be likely to think of this, but we can shave a little more time off arrival by boosting beyond the 67 G. that we can compensate for. If everyone straps in we can add another couple or three beyond what the compensator can deal with. We take three G’s on the shuttles and two for extend periods of time when we must.”

“Yeah, you guys have it rough all the time,” Stan said. And doing the math in his head,
“It won’t buy us much, five or six minutes, but let’s get things buttoned up and everyone strapped down. We can try an extra 2.5 and then we see. It won’t help to get there early and not be able to function. We can hash out the rest from our acceleration couches. Pavel look up just how much acceleration we can stand for how long and let me know. We might try more at the start and cutting it down as we get close.”

Due to his age what followed was likely tougher for him than anyone else onboard, but Admiral Raymond felt better for the effort, rather than worse for the pain.

The lightspeed limit had worked in the Eagle and Aladdin’s favor. It was a half an hour after the Aladdin failed to do the turnaround that those on the Sword were aware of that fact. It was a further surprise to find that the Aladdin was doing 70 Gs. A hurried conversation and plotting run showed Kalid exactly what that would mean.

“We will go to attack at once, set a course and close to firing range. There is still time to destroy the Eagle and complete our business on Altoona. Let no man fail in his duty to Allah!”

Voinovich had sent off all the details and reasons for what he was intending so that Jamie might make the most of it.

“How does this change things people?” she asked of her officers and crew already waiting at battle stations.”

“Doubles our chances,” Lt. Matson said with a wry chuckle. “It’s gonna’ force the Sword to react sooner and that should let us pick up even more time.”

“How so Mats?” Lt. Hines asked.

“If he decides to come to us rather than wait we can slow down and buy a little more time for the Aladdin to get into range.”

“Exactly,” Jamie said. “And if I were in his shoes that’s what I would do, come right at us. So if he does choose that course of action, what kind of fire plan do we use?”

Jamie listened to the suggestions but all the time she had spent in the simulator determined her decision. She issued the fire plan then waited to see what would happen. Sure enough the Sword began changing vectors, closing the range, and making the impending battle unavoidable.

“Two flights, thirty missiles on my command,” Captain Kalid said looking at the plot. “Fire Now!” One tube was acting up. Damaged in the battle with the Brisbane. Cycling through at five second intervals, as each missile boosted out of it’s launcher he could feel the electromagnetic drivers resonate with the background of the ships normal feel. The first tube was reloaded and ready to fire again by the time number fifteen was on its way.

It was quiet on his bridge while he waited for the result, and he was not at all happy twelve minutes later when he saw the outcome. Twenty four of his launch were intercepted at extreme range and then the other six had been dealt with, but still far from the Eagle herself. Only one detonated close enough that it might possibly have caused damage. “How was that done?” Then examining the interceptor drive signatures it came to him.

The Eagle’s Captain must have sent his first 24 interceptors out of the tubes before the Sword’s launch had even detected. Leaving those missiles drives unpowered and undetectable until it was too late for his countermeasures to affect them. That was the only thing that could explain a one to one kill ratio. The last six had to be dealt with in real time and the Eagle had fired two missiles for each one of his own. A prudent measure when the fate of your ship is lies in the balance.

“What now? How many interceptors might the Eagle have left?” Kalid gave the order. “One more launch, all tubes.” That was all he could spare if he was to deal with multiple launches from target three now rapidly closing the distance.

“We have another flight incoming.” Lt Matson said.

Lt. Hines was handling damage control. The last one hurt us Captain,” she said. The three band isn’t destroyed but we lost the grav compensator. Max acceleration 33 G. and two of our launcher are down. We are pulling out the missiles to use in the good tubes.”

Jamie could see for herself that there were only 20 missiles left for long range interception. “Launch fifteen then reload and wait.” She saw the hits on the fifteen inbound then ordered out the four she had in here reloaded tubes. Damn! Two were still inbound. The Sword had adjusted her missiles ECM settings. Jamie sent out the last of the ship killers and hoped the close in defenses worked as advertised.

The close in lasers were tracking and into as near continuous fire as their duty cycles would allow. Sensing an impending ablative shield failure the final Calp missile detonated before being destroyed. The Eagle was shaken by the blast. “We’ve lost band one for good and another grav compensator, casualties in engineering. Damage party to engineering.” The petty officer in charge, having taken over from Matson when he went to inspect the missile bay after the first salvo was doing every thing the right way insofar as Madry could tell. A commendation would be due if they survived.

The Aladdin was almost in position to launch.

“We do a variation on the Eagles maneuver,” Captain Voinovich ordered. “Send out sixteen but don’t light them off till we can make it look like we have that many functional tubes. Make it look like a normal sequential fire and send another eight immediately afterwards.”

“We have hurt the Eagle badly this time Captain,” Saleh reported with pride. “She cannot withstand another launch.”

“And the other Ship?”

“We must engage her first launch. If we leave now that will be all that she can send to threatens us.”

“First launch from target three incoming! Sixteen inbound!”

Kalid made his decision, Allah would understand. But would his superiors in the Caliphate? Seventy percent of his missile load was expended. One salvo would not be a problem, but more could cost him his ship. He was already crippled and the loss of the ship for nothing gained could not be countenanced. “Break off action. Head for the hyper limit, maximum divergence, maximum acceleration.”

“We celebrate later,” Captain Madry said. “For now let’s get on with the repairs and see how soon we can make orbit and finish the job.”

As soon as the last missile of the second flight of eight had left its tube the Aladdin reversed course at maximum power but without the uncompensated G’s. Altoona orbit was still sixteen hours away for her and she would over run, but by then the issue on planet should already be decided.
General al-Ghazzali had gone into a towering rage after receiving Kalid’s message and the ship’s Captain had refused his order to continue the attack on the Eagle. Because the Cardoman ship had been damaged and deceleration slowed he would have another twelve hours to try and finish with the Cardoman threat before the Eagle could get into position to interfere. With twelve hours it might just be possible. One hundred fifty of his men had been held in reserve they could make the difference at either Mt Hebron or Jeddah if he could get them there in time. There was a way. “Get me Abdul Khalaf,” he said, his voice shaking with anger.

The sun was rising and all Khalaf could think of anymore was sleep. He had been awake now for close to thirty hours. After winning control of the armory and distributing the captured weapons the expected relief column had failed to materialize. The city and surrounding area was his and an uneasy peace imposed.

Ramallah Rahman provisional leader of the newly installed puppet government had sent orders for all troops not already under his orders to lay down their weapons and cease all opposition. To this point only a few had complied but that would change as the reigns of power were grasped more fully.

Like al-Ghazzali, Khalaf had heard the message from the coward and traitor Kalid when he broke off the battle and was ready for the expected call. He could only hope that his thinking was not being affected by his need for sleep.

“Yes General, we have captured the four military transport fliers and can send them at your command. I fear though that when they land to pickup your remaining forces the one gun the Cardomans have managed to get working again will make short work of them and destroy them all before they load unless we can destroy their recon drone first.”

“Of course Commander Khalaf, I shall inform you when it has been done. Get the fliers ready to move within the hour.”

Ghazzali had his as yet unused radar gear and one of his long range ground to air missiles readied. The high flying Cardoman drone would be stealthy but with the receiving antenna mounted twenty kilometers from the transmitter the absence of a direct reflection wouldn’t make any difference. Side scatter would reveal its exact location. He had Khalaf notified forty minutes later that the drone was destroyed. Khalaf sent out the fliers then went to the rooms he had taken over on the military base for some much needed sleep. For now things were out of his control.

Major Calvert heard Sgt, Madry report the destruction of the recon drone, she had the location of the launcher and sent a dozen rounds to its location. But from here on in as far as precise spotting went she would be blind. Five minutes after the loss of the last drone Sgt. Loomis, who was acting as an observer in town, reported four fliers leaving the capital.

At Vulcan Audie told Cpl, Manners who had stepped up when Bledsoe went down and was now aiming the gun what Loomis has reported. He replied, “I’m sure you’ve got our air defenses in as good shape as the situation permits but we have been firing two round a minute now for the last four hours. I wouldn’t expect that more than one out of three or four actually did much damage. Now without the drone to give us correction I need to change out the barrel.” Fortunately, he said looking at the ruined and overturned guns littering the firebase, “We have plenty of spares.”

“How long Corporal?” Audie asked.

“Twenty minutes, Sarge, let Davis know.”

The fliers kept low and dropped thirty six more troops and their weapons, those troops coming from the city, at Mt. Hebron before continuing on to al-Ghazzali’s stronghold for the remainder of his reserves. The next two hours were spent carrying weapons and men to both the Hebron and Jeddah mines. If he couldn’t capture them Ghazzali was going to make sure they remained out of operation for a good long time.

Davis had gotten a spotter higher up the mountain and the as a result got a report detailing the location of one of the landings. Manners was quite pleased to hear the follow up report after the fire mission. One less transport. The training they’d done in manual fire mode had not gone to waste. Charley Company’s spotter had his transmission detected after multiple rounds fell on his location he was heard from no more.

Captain Madry on the Eagle talking to the Major telling him that there was still another hour before her ship could make orbit and the Aladdin would be a half an hour behind when the final stage of the Calp attack began.

“Take cover! Incoming !” She might not have fire control radar but Audie Madry could make anti air stuff get up and dance. She had the backtrack plotted before the first rounds had reached their apogee and passed the coordinates to Cpl. Manners who was now gun captain. Madry’s 12.5 stopped four of the first seven and the three rounds that made it through were long. That was all she wrote and Calp guns were silenced. At the same time over the com net came the notice of simultaneous attacks at Hebron and Jeddah. Audie relayed the data and corrections and Manners would lay the gun. There was no shortage of targets.

Rocket fire was landing at both mine sites but mostly mortars again. Either they were short on rockets or saving them for later. Soon the Calps had people close enough to both mines that rifle grenades started falling also. “This is great,” Davis yelled, “Now we got something to aim at.” With the single 155 still able to disrupt any concentration of force it was looking more and more like they would hold.

Sgt. Madry had just gotten the word that the Eagle was only seven minutes out. And then Audie heard a sound she had never heard before nor would likely again. It was the noise a breechblock makes when in it blows off the back of an overheated overworked 155. Luckily none of the crew was in its way, Manners doing his aiming from the side and forwards, as it hit the hard rock and sending chips flying in all directions ricocheted right out the other side of the base.

“Down for the count,” was all that Cpl. Manners could say.

Wes was almost twelve hundred meters away when he saw the Calps massing for the push into Mt. Hebron. He had been spotting for the 155 and was too far away to do anything but let Connie know what was coming. A squad of trained snipers would have been nice but his men were picking off the odd one here and there. Now where did that line come from, he wondered? “Just hold Captain, just hold.”

The Calps were quicker on the uptake at the Jeddah mine. The perimeter was broken and fifty or sixty troops were already into the main area; a number almost equal to what Morgan and Davis still had active. Jasper Newmish was snipping from behind the lines but unless something changed real soon they were about played out.

Captain Madry had the Eagle almost in position. Boss’n Miller was manning the KE station. He was the only one aboard who had ever fired one at a real target, one on the ground and not in a simulator.

“Talk to me Boss’n, what do you need.”

“Just send me the orbital elements and don’t change a thing until after I fire. Ready now! Tell em down below to keep their heads down. Lances away!”

Two bundles, twenty in each, of 8 kilogram depleted uranium rods with a length of about 2 meters each were heading downwards at 10 KPS. One bundle to each mine. They broke apart in flight and would impact in about three minutes. The force they delivered would be equal to ten times their weight in high explosives. If the aim point was off it would be worse for the defenders than the Calps.

Bars of light could be seen as the lances arced towards the ground. Their tiny seeker heads knowing only whether they were still on track for the initial aim point. The Calps saw them too and halting the attack tried to find any shelter they could. Only one lost lock and flared out of the target area. The other all struck within 5 meters of their designated aim points. Both attacks were broken. The Eagle swept out of range.

“SP 101 prepare to launch” Pavel Tsarinstyn and his crew felt the boot from the docking bay and as soon as the cleared the ship were pressed into their couches with a weight five times greater than standard and hit atmosphere less than a minute later. If the KE lances were fiery arcs the shuttle was a flaming sun.

They went subsonic over Wadi Abbas and began the attack run. Calp surface to air missiles rose to meet them but were decoyed or destroyed. Several got close enough to detonate but to no avail as the heavy metal armor the shuttle was made from proved its worth. Three passes and then a one minute run to the Jeddah mines.

It took another eight minutes before Davis agreed that further action would be a waste of resources. Tsarinstyn went back to the Aladdin, reloaded and made one final run at Wadi Abbas.

When al-Ghazzali sent out his reserve their position had been noted. Pavel sent all of his remaining guided ordinance load into the tunnel mouth and used everything else he carried on the mountainside above. When the Eagle made her next pass Boss’n Miller had nothing worth aiming at.

Getting the wounded the best possible care became the highest priority now. The city was still held by rebel forces but that would be dealt with later. Aladdin’s second shuttle and the Eagles lander were pressed in to service taking the Seventh’s own to the medical facilities on both ships. The worst cases were suspended and would be taken care of when they returned to Cardoman.

One thing the Major wasn’t going to do was try and take over Gabara at once to get the use of the several good hospitals the city contained. They were already full up with casualties from the fighting in town and he wasn’t going to create more and then kick the present patients out so that his men could use the buildings. He had Admiral Raymond order Voinovich to put the Aladdin’s Chief Medical Officer in charge and make sure he got any support asked for.

From the outside if must look strange to see a Major ordering an Admiral and a ship’s Captain around but not to those receiving the orders. As soon as the Eagle’s lander could be spared Boss’n Miller ferried the Melbourne, Grayson, Morgan, and Trade Minister Cowan, up to the Eagle for a discussion on how to proceed. Wes had gone up on an earlier flight but the commanders on the ground had needed to take care of their men before they had been free to leave.

When Major Calvert came onboard the Eagle it was only his remarkably fast reflexes that let him touch his hand to forehead first in the traditional salute as the bays speakers rang out with “7th Cardoman Arriving.” Captain Madry, standing at attention, had taken the trouble to change into her best uniform and had a complete side guard mounted. “Welcome aboard Sir,” she said.

Calvert thought he must look out of place in the fatigues he had worn throughout the battle; coming here directly from the surface with no time to clean up or change. “Thank you Captain, it is a pleasure for me to be here.” And making sure his voice would be heard by all said, “And a pleasure that twelve hours ago I would not have thought possible. Were it not for the manner in which you and your command carried out their duties I would not be here. So as you see the pleasure truly is mine, but the honor yours.” Calvert came to attention once more and saluted all present. “Please Captain, dismiss your men and we will get down to business.” The first order of business was getting cleaned up and having his clothing taken care of.

Sometime later he was wearing a pair of ships coveralls but occupying the best stateroom on the ship. Captain Madry should be here in a few minutes and Wesley was reflecting on how little he knew of her. They had met, but briefly, when the Seventh first came to Altoona and she was second on the Carpathian. The shortness of the voyage and his preoccupation with the job at hand and her duties had left no room for socializing. He had gone a ways towards rectifying the situation by the time the rest of his command staff reached the Eagle.

Sgt. Loomis was up from the capital as the only member of having useful information about the situation there. All he had to do was walk a couple of kilometers from the city limit and one of the armored shuttles picked him up. The rebels held the strong points but most of the city saw little evidence of their presence but the smoke from a few smoldering fires showing that a battle had been fought and lost by the old government.

“Very little popular support,” Loomis said. “The Caliphate has their own reasons but as far as the general populace sees it; this was just a grab for power by a small number of religious fanatics and some fellow travelers looking for personal gain. The government was a nominal democracy and al-Masari could and would have been voted out of office if he lacked popular support.”

“In that case we can’t very well threaten to level the place if the rebels refuse to surrender than can we,” Ben Morgan Commented.

“Why not?” Clay Grayson said, and proceeded to answer his own question. “The real power remaining here we know now is Abdul Khalaf, and he can’t possibly know what we might or might not do. The threat, if we frame it properly, just might do the deed.”

Admiral Raymond said, “It’s certainly worth a try. We need to do a few things to make the threat look plausible and get Major Calvert’s script in order but it costs nothing if we fail.”

Melbourne than said, “You’re missing something here Admiral. I think you and not the Major should be out front when threats are delivered. It’s just possible your reputation precedes you.”

They were still finishing up the details when a chime sounded and Pamela Hines’ voice came over the speaker system. “We are receiving a message from the planet from someone claiming he is Jawad Ayyub al-Masari, and he is demanding to speak to Major Calvert or to whomever else might be in charge.

It took another day but most of the Cardoman forces on the planet were now in dug in at locations just outside of the city. The marine force from both ships was landed as well. Making no attempt at stealth or silence both of the armored shuttles were circling within ground to air missile range of the rebel held positions as if daring them to take a shot. Wes was with Pavel Tsarinstyn in SP 101 but watching things unfold as Admiral Raymond presented his ultimatum.

“The only concession I will make, and I do this only because of past allegiances, is to permit any forces, not native to Altoona, an opportunity to surrender and be held by Cardoman troops, pending a ship arriving and taking them off planet. You have thirty minutes to think it over and then both the Eagle and Aladdin will within range and begin the action that none of you will survive.”

The next twenty five minutes were a strain and then some. Fire control radars were turned on and broadcasts made into the city telling all who had not already evacuated to get indoors and under cover. Captain Melbourne, in charge of the troops on the ground, kept a constant stream of message traffic going out to all of the Cardoman forces. The native troops that had remained loyal played their part as well. If an attack became necessary Wesley made certain that they would play a leading role and spearhead the drive. Finally, all hope lost, with five minutes remaining Khalaf was on line giving his full acceptance of the terms.

“Please be so kind as to send in a shuttle now to evacuate me and my men before my former allies are aware of the changing circumstances.”

* * *
Jawad Ayyub al-Masari rode into Gabara at the head of a string of thirty camels, each one bore a robed Bedouin warrior in full panoply. Dressed like a sheik of old Araby Masari led the precession down the dusty street. From the streets, doors, and upper windows cries of joy and obeisance were heard. Major Calvert and Sgt. Abraham Loomis were waiting at the gates to the Presidential Palace to welcome him… in one form or another. Wesley was almost besides himself waiting to find out what in the fuck the low life, son of a bitch bastard, had been up to for the last three days.

Masari dismounted and then ignoring Major Calvert but turning to the crowd, in a loud voice said. “The Government and Kingdom are secured. We shall rejoice! The God of our fathers is with us this day and always.” From behind him trumpets sounded. Masari spoke again, “Ramallah Rahman… Bring us his head!”